According to a joint letter posted on the Radio Music License Committee (RMLC) website, GMR and the RMLC are discussing a settlement of their long-running litigation over the royalties that the commercial radio industry will pay for the public performance of music written by GMR composers. We last wrote about GMR here when, earlier this year, they last extended their interim license offered to commercial radio stations, with a substantial increase in the amount that stations needed to pay to remain licensed during the litigation. The joint letter says that the interim license will be extended for another 3 months while the parties work on this possible settlement. Stations will not receive any direct notice about the need to extend their licenses from GMR. Instead, stations are to go to the GMR website at https://globalmusicrights.com/interimextension to complete a form to remain licensed after the end of December.
As background, GMR is a new performing rights organization. Like ASCAP, BMI and SESAC, it represents songwriters and collects royalties from music users for the public performance of these songwriter’s compositions. GMR collects not only from radio stations, but from all music users – it has already reached out to business music services that provide the music played in retail stores, restaurants and other businesses, and no doubt has or will license other companies that make music available to the public. Most songwriters represented by GMR used to be represented by ASCAP or BMI, but these songwriters have withdrawn from ASCAP and BMI and joined GMR, allegedly to attempt to increase the amounts that they are paid for the use of the songs that they have written. For radio, these withdrawals became effective in January 2017, when the old license agreements between ASCAP and BMI and the commercial radio industry expired. Since then, radio stations have been signing interim licenses to play GMR music.
The interim licenses have been signed because, over the last few years, GMR has been engaged in litigation with RMLC over whether GMR should be subject to any sort of antitrust regulation of the rates that it sets. GMR has filed a countersuit over whether the RMLC itself violates the antitrust rules as a buyer’s cartel, by allegedly organizing all the buyers of GMR’s music to hold out for a specific price. We wrote about that litigation here. The possible settlement would apparently end this litigation.
What is a broadcaster to do about this further extension? Obviously, consult your own attorney for advice. Generally speaking, there is no authority to play the GMR music catalog other than through a license. Right now, that license comes either through this interim license offered to all commercial stations, or through an individually negotiated license between the broadcaster and GMR. Commercial stations can either sign a license or stop playing GMR music. Pulling all GMR music would be difficult because GMR’s members include core songwriters in most musical genres, whose songs are basically must-haves for a station to operate with most traditional formats. For instance, GMR’s catalog includes songs written by members of the Eagles, Bruno Mars, Bruce Springsteen, John Lennon, Pharrell Williams and even George Gershwin. Under copyright law, there are substantial “statutory damages” of up to $150,000 per song for any infringement, so even if one of GMR’s songs is in an ad or in some syndicated programming that plays on your station, your liability could be steep. GMR has already sued one station group for not paying royalties (see our article here). It is watching what broadcasters do, so careful consideration of rights and liabilities must be made.
But the joint letter looks like good news, as it indicates that some final resolution of GMR royalties may soon be at hand. Watch for news as to what those final royalties will be.